Going Broke
    Linda Boroff
It wasn’t the sort of thing that happened all at once, the downward slide; Beverly’s father had been a good contractor but overextended, the victim of unprincipled competition and merciless pilferage. As early as age eight, Beverly had printed a letter to Santa beseeching “a lot of money to pay Mr. Collins.” And soon after that, the annual Buick was replaced by a Ford, “the smartest thing we ever did.”

But talk of selling the house began by Beverly’s tenth birthday, engendering long, melancholy weekends of buxom realtors and their clients poking around in the kitchen and assaying the carpets, eyes narrow with arithmetic. That summer had seemed rock bottom yet there had been still farther to fall, a lot more eking and borrowing before the foreclosure, the official beginning of poverty. A relief when it came.

The family arrived in Los Angeles late in 1964 and immediately took to the freeways, journeying endlessly, eyes stinging. They never seemed able to get where they were going: “Let’s explore the western section today,” Beverly’s father would propose, swallowing a Librium. And they would all obediently dress up to embark on their exploration, ending up in Anaheim or Tarzana, soaked and angry.

Always, the talk would turn to money: there was simply no way out. The despair was never so immediate as when they fled pell-mell in the dirty blue Ford, dashing around cloverleafs two and three times, following off-ramps into grimy strip cities composed of used car lots and taco stands.

They had taken a little motel room with kitchenette in East Hollywood, the walls green and weary, veterans of a thousand familial disintegrations. Mold grew in the shower stall. God knew where the money was coming from then—relatives back east probably, grudgingly wiring twenties and fifties after the third collect call from a phone booth.

Daily, her father looked for work; at night, fights gusted through the family like forest fires. They were warned about the noise; still they battled, dizzy with adrenalin. Afterwards they went for midnight swims in the stagnant pool. A thick orange moon hung above them. They lay pale and enervated in the lukewarm water.

But this stage soon waned. Beverly’s mother, thin and haggard, found work in a nearby five-and-dime, sweltering in outdated Peck & Peck suits. Beverly and her sister started school. Her father lay on the black naugahyde sofa all day in his shorts, reading the want ads, sipping gin and devising schemes to recoup his finances. Deals “fell through” he said—evoking for Beverly an image of something wounded hurtling earthward through a dense forest, hitting branches, landing broken and already dead. His creditors soon found him again where he huddled; first one, tentative, apologetic, then many in a rush, persistent, abusive, inexorable.

Beverly took a job after school typing envelopes in a travel agency. Every day she labored for four hours in a dusty back room, a metal recipe box of “accounts” beside her. Above her on a shelf were thousands of white envelopes in boxes. She also filed the travel brochures, which lay in a haphazard pile by the water cooler, where the agents tossed them. Each time Beverly filed a brochure, she had to pull the previous issue: Maupintours Jamaica your island in the sun was superseded by Go native Jamaica. Gray Line offered bus tours to Mexico, where Pre-Columbian stone idols gaped at the roistering gringos. The Lurline sailed regularly to Hawaii, featuring shuffleboard and opulent brunches imprisoned in aspic.

At first Beverly worked diligently, her fingers sore, eyes bloodshot. She stacked the finished envelopes carefully, with the addresses all going the same way, and “phased out” the old brochures with great integrity. She greeted each agent by name and was properly submissive to the agency secretary, a thin, oblivious woman in her forties.

But after a while, she became lax and dreamy. Nobody really noticed her. She was a tall, plump girl with a pudgy face and slightly protruberant brown eyes. She had a beautiful mouth, but her teeth had not been straightened and an upper canine jutted rudely from her smile like a wrong note.

Peeking out into the fluorescent office, Beverly would eavesdrop on the agents’ chatter, half eager to join in but much too timid. She rarely spoke to anyone anymore; she would sit for hours immersed in lush, improbable fantasy—her entire life was wrapped up in the Beatles. Slumped over her typewriter, she pictured herself in Liverpool, a trendy expatriate dashing through the English mist in a little sports car. Or dancing in London with Paul, flash bulbs popping. She would be shy at first, suitably meek, but he would break down her reserve with his irreverent courtship, sensing the Beverly within, a beautiful soul, capricious yet perceptive. She would help the Beatles resolve their little squabbles and be their mascot.

Beverly’s transports swung wildly between overt sexual desire and religious awe. When she imagined the Beatles near, in their physical incarnation, her stomach would turn over and her heart pound: the feel of their clothes, their nakedness beneath, the smell of their hair, their actual arms. Burrowed among office paraphernalia, she closed her eyes and extended a hand, trying to imagine a Beatle at the end of it, within her grasp. The concept was too overpowering, her mind could not conceive it. But through her failure to fully imagine, the possibility was enhanced.

Each evening after work, Beverly wrote to Paul, telling of her feelings, her experiences at school, her love. She felt only he could understand her. On Saturdays she would mail the thick letter to a post office box in London. Whenever the conversation at work turned to the Beatles, Beverly’s face would flush and throb; perspiration would cover her entire body. She hid the secret of her immense obsession from nearly everyone. Her love burned pure and hot.

One Friday night, her father left. His suitcase clattered suddenly into the living room and Beverly’s mother stood above it, her eyes dark and terrible. He had borrowed five hundred dollars from somebody.

“When I got off work, some little man confronted me,” she whispered. “He threatened me. I gave him my paycheck. How will we eat?” She grabbed Beverly’s younger sister, Jill, and sank her nails into Jill’s back. “He called me names. What in the hell did you do with five hundred dollars while we were starving?”

The father followed the suitcase, arms dripping with neckties. “I’m not even going to try to explain. I did it for us. I didn’t know he’d come to you.” He shook his fist and the ties swayed. “For sixteen years I worked for you. I broke my heart.”

“You don’t care that he threatened me. You don’t even ask what he said.”

“I’ve got to get out of here. I’m dying.” Beverly and her sister began to cry.

“Let him go,” screamed the mother, reckless. “He hasn’t drawn a sober breath since he moved in here. Him and his goddamn pills and his goddamn booze. There’s always money for that, isn’t there? Look, even now he’s so drunk he can’t see straight.”

“Girls.” His bleary eyes took in the three. Beverly, arms limp, stood beside her mother and Jill, who clung together sobbing. The father thrust his ties into the suitcase, checked his pockets. The car keys jingled.

That night, Beverly lay awake staring into the darkness. “I love you, Paul,” she whispered over and over. She felt her breasts with his hands.

The following Monday, Beverly’s girlfriend Cheryl cornered her in the hall at school, flushed with excitement. “There are two English bands staying at the Oceanside in Santa Monica. Nobody’s supposed to know.”

“Oh my God. How’d you find out?”

“From Cliff. I met him at the Whiskey. He manages that group Odyssey that’s playing there.”

“Who are the bands?”

“One is called Sphinx,” said Cheryl, “that’s all I know. They’re really big in England, except nobody here has heard of them yet. But Cliff says they’re going to be bigger than the Beatles. He knows Peter and Gordon and Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Kinks. Everybody.” Cheryl drew close. Her eyes, pale blue, burned into Beverly’s. “This is it. You and I and Ann Scott are going out to the Oceanside after second period, got it?”

Beverly faltered. “You mean we’re cutting class?”

“What does that matter?” Cheryl rolled her eyes. “If these guys go for us, we’ll be in. We won’t even have to go to school. We’ll travel around the world.” She gripped Beverly’s hand. “Please say you’ll do it. I’m scared to go just with Ann.”

“I don’t know. Let me think.” The blood roared through Beverly’s ears. Her face grew hot. She thought suddenly of a blue marble that she had wagered and lost to Bonnie Knowles in first grade, a perfect little sapphire irretrievably gone. Beverly took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“Yaaaay.” Cheryl capered with joy, fists clenched.

“But what’ll we do when we get there?” said Beverly. “What if they’re already gone? We’ll get in trouble for nothing.”

“Cliff promised if we go we’ll meet them for sure. Look, Ann’s got a car. Meet us behind the girl’s gym at ten. Got it?”

“Yes....” Beverly stammered, thinking of her physical education teacher, wary and tanned.

“Tell them you got cramps. I’ll forge a note for you. Beverly, please?”

“I said I would.”

Imprisoned in her English class, Beverly fought the urge to stand up and scream. Her legs twitched and her teeth chattered. Why had she worn her frumpiest blouse today, and that skirt the color of oatmeal? Why hadn’t she curled her hair? When the bell rang, she nearly upset her desk in her dash for the door.

Ann and Cheryl were waiting in the parking lot behind the gym in Ann’s Mustang. Cheryl, plump and blonde in the front seat, was choking with glee.

“Bev, this is Ann.”

“Hi, Ann.” Beverly blinked. Ann looked about twenty in her tight sweater, with long, platinum hair and big blue eyes. With such an ally they couldn’t fail to be noticed, but what if the whole band went for her? They would have to if they weren’t blind. Glum with apprehension, Beverly subsided into the back seat.

“Ann has met the Rolling Stones,” Cheryl announced proprietarily.

“Also Freddy and the Dreamers and Herman’s Hermits.” Ann waved her hand. “It’s no big deal. They’re just people like us.” Beverly became aware of her mouth hanging open and gulped. The girls rode in silence toward the ocean, through the garish, disillusioned architecture of Hollywood.

“Ann’s father left too,” Cheryl finally said, uncomfortable in the long pause.

“He left my mother because she’s a drunk,” said Ann. “I don’t blame him. He’s shacking with somebody else now and I like her much better than my mother.”

“I’m quite beyond my family actually,” said Beverly. “I’ve sought my own life. My mother and sister have no idea at all what I’m like.”

“I know what you mean,” said Ann. “I’m very,” she shrugged, “bonkers, you know. I can’t fit into this at all.” She gestured at hazy Santa Monica Boulevard, bumper to bumper. “I’m really quite a scandal here.”

“Me too,” said Cheryl. “I’m much more English than American. I don’t even know why I am an American. Like, how did that happen?”

“Where is this place?” Said Beverly.

“By the beach,” said Ann. “I know exactly where it is. My mother goes there sometimes and picks up on traveling salesmen.”

Beverly bit her lip. She had thought of the Oceanside Inn as a watering hole for expatriated British mods. “You mean it’s just a motel?”

“Well it’s not a bad one.” said Ann. “My mother has some class left.”

“Hollywood’s such a hole,” said Cheryl. “Who’d stay there if they didn’t have to?”

“Yeah,” said Beverly. “They’d be swarmed.”

“Now look,” said Ann, “here’s the plan: We walk in and I’ll tell them at the desk I’m pretty sure my mother’s here, see they kind of know me. And then I can look at the register. One of their names is Peter Michaelson.”

Peter Michaelson, thought Beverly. A British rock star. She imagined herself landing in New York for a tour with Peter Michaelson before a pandemonious crowd. He would be in a black collarless suit and she all in suede, a little tam on her head. He would be preoccupied with the bookings, the instruments, oblivious to the hysteria around them. She would be laughing with a deejay she knew, jaunty and confident. People would not be sure if she and Peter were really married or not. The constant speculation would bore her silly.

“Here it is.” Ann slid the car into a parking space in front of a salmon-colored stucco motel with a flat roof and dark green trim. A neon sign featured a tippler grinning at his bubbling glass. “Wait in the car.” Ann leaped out and slammed the door.

Cheryl and Beverly sat in silence, alert as gazelles. Endless minutes later, Ann appeared at the side of the building, beckoning furiously.

“This is it. Come on.” Cheryl vaulted out and Beverly climbed stiffly after her.

“It looks like we’re the first,” she stammered. “I have to pee.”

“No time. Hurry up.” Ann had disappeared. Cheryl and Beverly rounded the corner and entered a deserted cement courtyard bordered with succulents. Ann was standing in front of a door, pointing triumphantly.

Cheryl gasped out, “In there?”

“Yup. You knock.”

“Oh I can’t,” said Cheryl. “What if they’re asleep?”

“Well I can’t. Beverly, you knock.”

“Not on your life.”

“I drove,” pouted Ann. “You can’t expect me to do everything.”

“Well I found out about the place,” said Cheryl. “Beverly, you have to knock.” Trapped, Beverly advanced to the door. Her fist shook. She slapped timidly at the painted wood.

“C’mon, give it a real one,” Ann hissed. Taking a deep breath, Beverly balled up her fist and pounded for all she was worth, then fled behind a palm tree. Cheryl, after a moment’s hesitation, joined her.

“What the hell?” came a voice from inside. “Come back in an hour, hey?” The voice had an unmistakable British inflection.

“It’s not the maid,” shouted Ann.

“I don’t care if it’s the bloody president’s wife,” came the voice. Without warning, the door jerked open violently. A young man stood in the shady entrance wearing a pair of jockey shorts. He was swaying slightly.

“Oh my God,” breathed Beverly.

Ann stood dumbfounded. She put her hand to her mouth. “Is Peter here?” she asked timidly.

“No, next door.” He surveyed her, blinking. “Wow, up with the sun, hey?”

“It’s nearly eleven,” said Ann. “That’s all the time you get.” She flung her hair back and grinned.

“How can she just stand there and talk to him?” whispered Beverly. “He’s not even dressed.” Cheryl began to giggle and suddenly snorted.

“Okay.” The boy disappeared for a moment then emerged in a pair of jeans. “How many birds are out here?”

“Three,” said Ann. “C’mon out, you big chickens,” she shouted at the palm tree. “You can’t hide back there all day.”

“Peter.” The boy was banging on a closed door a few feet away. “It’s eleven bloody o’clock. We’re to be in Redondo Beach at one for that photo shoot.”

Beverly’s heart sank. They were going to get dressed and leave. Stealthily, she crept out into the blazing sun, into the blazing scrutiny of two more skinny British boys who suddenly loomed up in front of her.

“Big ones they grow here,” said one, nudging the other, and they laughed. Beverly grew dizzy. Cheryl, crimson, grabbed her hand.

“Care for a beer?” the one closest asked her. “C’mon. C’mon in.” He took her arm. Beverly tried to pull away.

“I think it’s a little early for. A beer,” she panted. Her head swam. The boy was watching her and grinning. He was blond, and his eyes were very determined.

“Do you good. You too.” Cheryl gave Beverly a vicious push toward the door and they both stumbled inside. The boys followed. Ann was nowhere in sight. The interior of the room was cluttered with suitcases and vague, lollipop guitar shapes. The boy beside Beverly put his arm around her and began to nibble at her neck, pulling her toward the bed. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Cheryl?” Beverly half screamed, half laughed. “Cheryl, we’ve got to get out of here.” The door slammed and the room went very dark. There was a faint foreign smell in the close air: these boys were alien. Other. Beverly’s stomach contracted with panic, yet she felt reckless too. She giggled again. “Cheryl?”

“I know her name’s Cheryl. Now you tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.” A burst of giggles came from the shadowy corner nearest the door, followed by a snort.

“Beverly,” said Beverly. “Cheryl?”

“Beverly, that’s pretty. Hallo, Beverly, I’m Toby.” He gave her a gentle shove into the dark and she fell on a rumpled bed. She heard the clatter of a can and then a hiss, and more clatter and another hiss. “Don’t be so shy, Beverly. Here, have a beer.” A cold, wet cylinder was thrust into her hand. Toby landed on the bed next to her. This can’t be happening, Beverly thought. This can’t be me, here, all of a sudden, everything so different. She began to giggle as Toby’s arm went around her.

Later that week, Beverly put a quarter into the television set and saw on the news that the Beatles had landed in New York for their second American tour. Stoic police locked arms as eight matchstick legs descended the airline staircase, the jet wash fanning their natty, skimpy coats. The Beatles’ eyes were bright and feverish, distracted by the pandemonium below. Guttural Liverpool wisecracks were tossed backwards into mikes.

In the background hovered her mother and sister like ghosts—vague, troubled forms, half-glimpsed. They had had a postcard from the father somewhere in South Dakota, the writing erratic and blurry. He might have a lead on something. People were being very nice. Beverly’s eyes flicked back to the television: The Beatles were resting. Ringo might or might not have a cold. She watched greedily, her damp fists clenching and unclenching. A sandwich lay untasted beside her.

Linda Boroff grew up in Minneapolis, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in English Literature. She has published fiction in Epoch (Cornell University), Prism International (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), The Cimarron Review, The Small Pond Magazine, The Pikestaff Forum, Moving Out, and other print magazines. Her online fiction is at Cyber Oasis, Stirring, The Pedestal Magazine, The Starry Night Review, and others. She is a Chesterfield screenwriting semifinalist and is currently completing her first novel.



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